Metadata 101

What is metadata, and why is it important?

Metadata provides context: the who, what, where, why, when that helps you to discover and interact with information.

Often defined as “data about data”, metadata is a mechanism for describing data or content to enhance its usefulness. It is a key component to both data and content management, with established practices in different domains such as computer science, data warehousing, and particularly in libraries. In a library and digital collection context, metadata is a critical information product that connects users to digital content, enabling not only the “findability” of content within different search environments, but also facilitating contextual user interface/interaction and even long term data preservation capabilities.

Metadata enables you to:

Search precisely: find a specific individual within a group photo in a yearbook from 1957
Sort: sort items in a search result by the year they were created
Filter: only show black and white photographs
Navigate and interact: browse, page down, change views, skip to next track
Assess information quality: choose between GIS data last updated in 2008 vs. 2014
Differentiate: Franz Ferdinand (Archduke, born in 1863) vs. Franz Ferdinand (Scottish rock band formed in 2002)

What does metadata look like?

Metadata elements highlighted in a Google search results screenMetadata is all around you! It helps to drive search engines and social media, not to mention that it powers library catalogs like Emory's discoverE.

How do I create metadata?

Metadata can be created in many different ways. At its simplest, it's often created in a spreadsheet, and then imported into a more robust system. Metadata is often stored as records in a database, as part of the HTML code for a website, or as XML files.

See our FAQ for more information.

Learn More:

Emory Core Metadata

Understanding Metadata (NISO)

Metadata: Key Concepts for Digital Collections

Seeing Standards: A Visualization of the Metadata Universe